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Ugandan police commander threatens to shoot journalists, seizes reporting equipment

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda

This statement was originally published on on 12 January 2016

On 10 January 2016, George Obia – a high-profile police commander in Moroto District – roughed up four journalists, damaging a video camera and confiscating three others amidst threats to shoot them if they did not heed his orders.

The journalists – Galiwango Ronald of NTV, Kenneth Oryema of New Vision, Ernest Kyazze from Bukedde newspaper and the Daily Monitor's correspondent in Moroto, Julius Ariong – had gone to Nadiket to follow up on reports that police had mounted a road block in the middle of the road allegedly to block the opposition Forum for Democratic Change Presidential candidate Dr. Kizza Besigye and his team from accessing his supporters through the road.

Ariong told HRNJ-Uganda that Obia threatened to shoot them if they did not get out of the car they were traveling in. “[Me] and my colleagues went there and found the road block with policemen. I called the Regional Police Commander to find out but he told me to go to his office for further information. As we were leaving, the District Police Commander, SSP George Obia came and told us not get out or else he will shoot the vehicle. I came out of the vehicle and my colleague from NTV also came out with his camera. The DPC ordered him, 'give me the camera if not I am going to destroy it '. My colleague refused and Obia kicked the camera damaging it beyond repair,” Ariong told HRNJ-Uganda. He said the DPC then descended upon other journalists and confiscated their still cameras as he beat up the Bukedde journalist.

When contacted by HRNJ-Uganda, Obia admitted to a scuffle with the journalists but denied damaging and confiscating their cameras. He said that the attack was as a result of the journalists' refusal to hand over their cameras, “I said I need the camera, there is information I want. It is the journalist who handed over the camera to me and later said it was damaged.” He justified the attack on journalists for filming the movement of troops he had deployed to patrol the Nyasaru border post, “I ordered one of my men to stop them from filming as I went to see them. When I reached the scene, I told them 'you cannot just film the movement of troops, you don't just film anyhow; you don't know the purpose of this operation.' I demanded for the camera, a one Galiwango refused so I grabbed it but he pulled it away from me and ran to their car,” the DPC said.

The police have been implicated in attacking journalists covering opposition presidential candidate Kizza Besigye in Gulu and Rhino Camp health center among other incidents elsewhere, which have seen the police look on as politicians attack journalists.

“We are worried by the increasing brutality of police towards journalists and the entire media fraternity, especially those assigned to cover the opposition camp. Police officers like these one should be reprimanded by their bosses and we shall pursue him in his individual capacity for the gross violations of freedom of expression” said the HRNJ-Uganda National Coordinator Robert Ssempala.

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